Dev Raj Dahal
Compromise is the heart of democratic life. Human life often negotiates with the changes underway through compromise of conflicting aspirations and avoids the risk of mal-adaptation of organisational processes. It is a practical way to seek the production of intended effects in politics and hones the virtue of reciprocity. Mutual concessions among individual leaders help settle the grievances, avoid the trap of indecision, majority decision, coercion or disruption. The politics of compromise thus governs individuals, family, business, society, political parties, institutions and international relations.
The evolutionary theory of society argues that as society becomes more differentiated with specialised social division of labour, it requires many communicating and coordinating mechanisms to keep it in the spirit of party’s goals, discipline and order. The array of compromise between individuals, groups or institutions if based on right opinion and sincere motive turns it rational and enduring. Juergen Habermas says, “The grounding of legal norms serves a rationally motivated agreement,” and “a form of compromise among interests.” In a roughly fair compromise, each actor’s interest gets equal care thus balancing both political will and reason. It does not mean subordination of one’s interest to the other or yielding to the status quo, but mutual adjustment to resolve rival interests, positions and opinions that are the causes of friction.
Why compromises in Nepal have often become short-lived? Obviously, each of them was based on power equation where only the powerful actors have reaped its dividend while the left out, potential and those on the margins did not. Only in a principled negotiation, people are linked to issues. The persistence of this disjuncture in Nepal has fuelled many defections within the party and ignited the rage of street protests. The partisan nature of compromise lacking general universal principles made it contesting whether it is peace accord, constitution, secularism, federalism, republicanism, identity politics, election system and social and economic measures.
There were neither shared values to glue the points of compromise nor any stake of those who were non-participants, not even based on general public opinion mustering its legitimacy grounded on popular sovereignty. It did not imbibe larger interests of Nepalis enabling them to accommodate in the mutually accepted path which can be a best possible point for political stability. Similarly, they were based on the adjustment to power equation, not good faith, frankness and the union of hearts and minds. Good grounds are, therefore, essential to deliberate and enter into meaningful compromise. Compromise is essential in a pluralist democracy like Nepal with a myriad of political parties, social groups and interest positions because it moderates the extremist gambit of rival actors and minimises the tyranny of those in power and position.
But Nepali politics reminds of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s metaphor of the stag hunt, where in a competition for short-term personal and partisan interests of leaders prevail over the common long-term interests of the party and the nation. In a pluralist party like Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in need of internal democracy, democratisation of decision making structures and operation as per its statute, democratic centralism is less a remedy to integrate the mass than democratic decentralisation of power within the party and building it from the bottom up. Nepali leaders were quite successful in settling violent conflict ‘People’s War’ by peace accord but the reconciliatory management of its residues desired after it with the former foes haunt the future. Peace dividends have become dismally deficient.
Series of ineffectual compromises with the non-state armed actors subdued their ferocity and reduced their size while compromises with subsidiary identities remain as festering sores. Now the decline in the scale of compromises in the ruling NCP and opposition Nepali Congress allowed the exhaustion of political energy of the party either in effective governance or peaceful change. The beneficiaries of the fractious politics care less to either the party’s degeneration or its predicament. The deterioration of Nepali constitution is threatening democracy and the scramble for money has sapped political muscle of parties to connect with citizens.
The political dynamics is set not by the opposition, but by dissident elements within the ruling party, scores of small anti-system parties and several-demand generating social classes. Enforcement of social contract can reduce the scale of problems, constitutionalise the behaviours of leaders and citizens and orient them to public and national direction. The belief in partisan politics in no way rejects the flexibility that detests stubbornness of position. Such a tendency amounts to a lack of commitment to conduct the public affairs and duty to governing which requires the compromise and cooperation of various types of opposition.
Can the six-point formula forwarded by Bam Dev Gautam become a starting point for the negotiation of compromise thus binding both chairmen of the party—Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Puspa Kamal Dahal Prachanda? Gautam’s approach is sedative but fragile to dispel deep distrust because the dissidents within the NCP bargain for sharing power now. History of conceiting each other made them present-oriented than plan for the future payoffs. Cadres in the party believe that the rift between the two chairmen indicates neither a cause for party split which amounts to neither mutual loss nor status quo. Split displaces the party from power. The status quo will spoil the party’s vision of prosperity, progress and stability inflicting governance dysfunctions. It will discredit the government and turn it feeble to combat pandemic and consolidate the polity, economy and political progress.
Gautam’s approach spells that Oli will continue full five years in office but eases the general convention of the party on April 7-12, 2021 to endorse Prachanda’s chairmanship. It is, however, opposed by second generation leaders of Oli camp as they abhor electing Prachanda for his aversion to Janatako Bahudaliya Janabad (people’s multiparty democracy) resonating radical lefts’ will. Group mind thus kills party’s cohesion. But the other two points that the party shall not interfere in the governance while the government will consult the party on vital matters and there will be restructuring of the cabinet to distribute the spoils of office seem elegant. Youth leaders have given duty to both chairman to solve the leadership brawl but without offering finest prospect where both can save their faces and find the joint resolution beyond invisible dynamics of power structure, passion and paternalism. This explains why future payoffs have failed to transform dyadic zero-sum game into a win-win one.
Since NCP is formed out of numerous leftist groups with multiple relationships it has complex dynamics, not a linear one. A variety of orientations are straining its move to party’s goals. Its structural instability is intensified by the supporters of each faction demonising the other and eroding each other’s efficacy, image and personality. Both chairmen behave on certain assumptions about the goals, strategy and means and the larger environment of geopolitics where other political parties are lured to share power with it despite their electoral defeat. They maintain equidistant position with two chairmen. Dahal’s inclination to Madhav Kumar Nepal is alienating his staunch supporters flirting them to Oli while the latter’s blinking talks to exhaust Dahal spell his irrelevance which the adicals had often toned.
Oli has many options in his sleeves to frighten defiant leaders. Dahal argues that in the name of party unity, one cannot hide the wrong tendencies in it. Oli smells his power drive prompting him to say he will not resign as the Prime Minister and party chairman because it would be “against the mandate of people and national sovereignty.” His preference for general convention of the party for the resolution of leadership question stoked Prachanda’s rejection in favour of single chairmanship now. The dynamics in the NC is triadic one. Its leaders oppose the government but prefer a grand coalition government. The intricacies in Nepali politics will remain so long as top party leaders are immune from social interests and detached from the new insight of expert opinions for fair compromise. In this context, renewal of talk with fresh ideas can help unfreeze the deadlock, delink excessive influence of interest groups in polarising them, focus on national priorities and address the Nepalis concerns.
Managing a democratic party system in Nepal entails applying optimal democratic values, norms and laws for each faction of the party underlined in the nation’s constitution. If one faction’s interest is elevated at the cost of the other party suffers erosion and breakdown. In this context, the genuine formula of compromise does not favour one side against the other. Diversity within the parties in Nepal provides vitality and energy for innovation of ideas. If sectoral interests are merged into party’s rule-based behaviour based on compromise, not prejudice, controversy and conflict, resilience can be achieved.
Likewise, an awareness of the cost of escalation or non-compromise and the benefit of compromise requires a shift in perspective from the faction to the party as a whole and an analysis of hidden interests and connections for their management. Unbending attitude of leaders prevails if factional interest is reared as party’s interest even if auxiliary organisations, NGOs, civil society, party intellectuals, etc. differ prompting them to struggle for democratisation. The solution of Nepali party politics turns rational if rival groups in each political party shares national goals, each is better off like in a mixed game and the politics of compromise improves the outcome for all including ordinary citizens. Collective stake of factions has a freeing effect in the party. It opens leaders’ minds to the benefits of compromise for them and Nepalis at large.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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